The Kobe We Missed Out On [OPINION]
Some people stand so tall above the rest you begin to think that their life is as timeless as their legend. Kobe Bean Bryant was one of those people.
A man so impressive and so remarkably talented that we tacitly assumed he didn’t operate with the same fragile mortality as the rest of us. Yet, this past Sunday stands a stark reminder for many that nobody can author the conclusion to their own story, no matter how magnificent that story may be.
Kobe’s on-the-court legacy is unrivaled among his contemporaries. Coming into the league in 1996 straight out of Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School, he was heralded as the heir-apparent to Michael Jordan. And 20 seasons, five championships, a league MVP, and myriad accolades later, Bryant cemented himself as the consummate player of his time.
By the time he capped off his career with a stunning 60-point effort, we fully experienced Kobe as his on-the-court persona, the Black Mamba. We experienced the signature moments that captivated a generation. We experienced the nightly display of fastidiously crafted skill and competitive spirt that inspired a new wave of players and fans across the globe. These experiences are part of what made the pain of his untimely departure affect millions on a deeply personal level.
But one of the ultimate tragedies of Kobe Bryant’s death was missing out on the version of him to whom we were just being introduced. Already a cultural icon, he was preparing himself for a second act just as remarkable and laudatory as his first. We knew the brilliance of Kobe Bryant the athlete, but we were robbed of the brilliance of Kobe Bryant the storyteller.
Kobe’s trademark intelligence and curiosity – coupled with his background as an American who grew up abroad in Italy – gave him not only impressive multilingual capabilities but also deep cultural insights. His experiences and his gifts as a communicator naturally lent themselves to a successful career in storytelling. At the end of his athletic career, Bryant founded Granity Studios, a multimedia company which sought to draw on his experiences and “partner with award-winning writers, producers and illustrators to awaken the imagination of young athletes and foster emotional and mental development that allows them to reach their full potential.”
Bryant’s rise to the prominence on this side of the entertainment industry appeared to be even more rapid and electrifying than his ascendency to NBA stardom. The year after his retirement, Bryant wrote and narrated the Academy Award-winning Dear Basketball, a short film animated by notable Disney animator Glenn Keane and composed by the legendary John Williams. The film is a brief and powerful accounting of Bryant’s lifelong obsession with basketball: from childhood aspirations of stardom, to his dominance over the sport, to his eventual reconciliation that he had to leave it behind.
After his victory at the 90th Academy Awards, Bryant said he cherished his Oscar even more than his NBA accolades. The elegance and somber tone of Dear Basketball wrenches the heart even tighter in light of his passing.
He also co-hosted Detail on ESPN+. Detail is a critically-acclaimed streaming series where Bryant and NFL legend Peyton Manning break down film of contemporary stars in their respective sports. Celtics guard Jayson Tatum, whose favorite player growing up was Bryant, said he watched the episode about himself 25 times (and probably more to this day) to glean insight on how he could improve. Tatum also famously trained with Kobe that following summer.
The Mamba’s dominance of entertainment media wasn't limited to the screen, however. In 2018 Bryant published The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, a bestselling memoir of his NBA career. It’s an impressive read, but a self-telling of a storied career is the natural progression for icons in any industry.
Bryant sought to take his creative talents to even greater heights: world-building. Bryant created entire mythological universes that combined his understanding of athletics and competition with the whimsical draw of Tolkien-esque realms. His first two series of novels, The Wizenard Series and Epoca published their first books to bestseller status and reader acclaim. Both tell stories of relatable young athletes who live in alternate mythological realities. These protagonists, each faced with their own personal and athletic challenges, must reconcile them by facing supernatural obstacles that test their resolve.
All of these ambitious goals realized, and he was just getting started. According to ESPN’s L.A. reporter, Romania Sherborne, who interviewed Bryant after his NBA retirement:
“He wrote books, screenplays, podcasts, short stories, poems. The words poured out of him. I remember telling him once to take a rest, enjoy his retirement a little. Slow down.
No way, he said, laughing.”
It’s hard to imagine that someone who was already so accomplished – whose physical talents and transcendent personality elevated him to global stardom – had barely scratched the surface of his potential. Yet his brief and spectacular career as a media mogul suggests that we’ll only ever get a glimpse of his burgeoning creative genius.
This is, of course, not to forget to recognize the even more heartbreaking loss of his young daughter, Gianna, who seemed destined to take the reigns as his second coming on the court, and the overwhelming grief of his surviving daughters and spouse whose lives have been fractured by this tragedy.
Kobe died a legend, but the spectacular mark he left on the world pales in comparison to the mark he intended to leave. That’s what makes his passing almost unbearably heartbreaking for the millions around the world who appreciated his brilliance.
Marcus Ferro is an attorney practicing in New Bedford and a weekly contributor to The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.